Senate debates

Tuesday, 5 September 2006

Remuneration and Allowances for Holders of Public Office and Members of Parliament

Motion for Disapproval

5:46 pm

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation) Share this | Hansard source

The principal purpose of clause 2.2 of Remuneration Tribunal determination 2006/11, which Senator Brown’s motion seeks to disallow, is to set the framework for the remuneration of a range of Commonwealth public offices—the principal executive offices. The Remuneration Tribunal adjusts the maximum remuneration of each band in the Principal Executive Office structure and the reference salaries in the structure from 1 July each year. This particular determination reflects the outcome of the tribunal’s annual review of the PEO classification structure. The tribunal, having had regard for a range of factors, decided that an adjustment was justified to the PEO structure from 1 July 2006. If clause 2.2 of the determination is disallowed, Commonwealth office holders who hold PEO offices may not be able to receive pay increases that the Remuneration Tribunal considers justified. The government believes that the current arrangements for adjusting MPs’ pay, along with the pay of these PEOs, remains appropriate as it provides a mechanism consistent with that applying to Commonwealth office holders more generally.

I indicate to honourable senators that over the last 12 months the Remuneration Tribunal has made some 18 determinations. Why is it that it is only this particular determination that is being challenged for disallowance? Why is it that it is only this particular determination that is being argued against? If I might suggest, I get the whiff of some cheap populism—and, might I add, misguided populism—in relation to that. So the tribunal made some 18 determinations and we then attack only one, the one that happens to include MPs’ salaries.

But, in his rush to disallow, Senator Brown will also catch, for example, the General Manager of Aboriginal Hostels Limited. Why isn’t that person entitled to a wage increase as determined by the independent Remuneration Tribunal? For that matter, why isn’t the General Manager of the Australia Council for the Arts or the Australian Electoral Officer in Tasmania or the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Film Corporation or, indeed, the Managing Director of Australian Hearing Services? These are all people, all individuals, that would have their pay increase as determined by the independent Remuneration Tribunal taken away from them.

Similarly, there is the Director of the Australian Institute of Family Studies or the Managing Director of the Australian Postal Corporation or the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Sports Drug Agency or the Chief Executive of the CSIRO or the Director of the Equal Employment Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency or the Managing Director of Film Australia or the General Manager of Indigenous Business Australia or the Chair of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority or the General Manager of the Indigenous Land Corporation or the Director of National Parks or the Managing Director of the Special Broadcasting Service or the Renewable Energy Regulator or, indeed, the General Manager of the Torres Strait Regional Authority. There are some 90 people that would be impacted.

Before we go and overturn these determinations by an independent body, I think it behoves the mover of the disallowance motion to actually say what the Remuneration Tribunal got wrong and what would be an appropriate substitute. But there has been no such consideration, just, if I might suggest, a bit of a cheap shot because parliamentarians are always an easy target in relation to that. At the end of the day what we have is an independent Remuneration Tribunal. Senator Brown sought to suggest that it is not an independent body—but it is set up by statute. I say to this chamber and to the Australian people that the government did not make a submission to the Remuneration Tribunal in relation to this. Each year the Remuneration Tribunal, of its own volition, considers the appropriate factors and then makes a determination.

We, as a parliament, quite rightly determined that we should not be masters of our own salary and, as a result, some time ago we gave that task to the Remuneration Tribunal. You cannot pass that task to the Remuneration Tribunal and then somewhere along the way make the assertion, for a cheap populist reason, that you will not agree with that decision. If we are genuinely concerned about the pay increase, when people ask, ‘Are you going to hand the money back to the Collector of Public Moneys?’—indeed, in my home state of Tasmania, and elsewhere, certain people have tried to take a cheap shot—the response should not be, ‘We’ll spend it in the community.’ I dare say that every parliamentarian spends the money in the community—unless they put it in the bank. Indeed, that is what most people do with their salaries. To try to fob it off by saying, ‘We will accept that which we think is inappropriate,’ does not hold much weight with me. If it is so immoral, if it is so wrong, you should not be accepting it or handing it back whence it came. You should not accept it and then determine to do with it as you will. In other words, you should not accept the pay increase but on the way try to distance yourself from it.

In fact, the increase is relatively modest. There is a bit of a catch-up provision because there was a lag, as determined by the Remuneration Tribunal. In all the circumstances, not a single argument has been put forward this evening as to why the Remuneration Tribunal’s determination should not be accepted. Indeed, not a single argument has been put forward as to why this particular determination is the standout of the 18 determinations the tribunal has made over the last 12 months and why only clause 2.2 should be knocked out in this circumstance.

Of course, even if you knock out only clause 2.2, Senator Brown is clear-felling the wages of a whole lot of people rather than undertaking the selective logging task of just trying to pin the parliamentarians. Senator Brown’s disallowance motion is ill conceived. He should explain to the general manager of Aboriginal Hostels Limited why he or she is not entitled to the pay increase. He should explain that to the 90 or so others in this particular band who have also been given a pay increase. Unless there is a cogent reason, a cogent argument, which we did not hear in the disallowance motion, I would suggest to all honourable senators that the determination by the independent body, the Remuneration Tribunal, be allowed to stand. I think that is the best way for the community to have a degree of confidence in the setting of parliamentary salaries.

It would be a retrograde step if from year to year we were to move in this place that we get either a wage increase or a wage decrease at the whim of a particular senator. It is important to leave the decision with an independent body. That is what the parliament has determined, and it has served us well. There is nothing untoward about this determination or, indeed, the Remuneration Tribunal’s other 18 determinations this year. As a result, the determination should stand.


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